Ozioma - That's Good News - From the NABJ Convention in Philadelphia

Aug 11, 2011, 6:51 PM, Posted by

By Linda Wright Moore

RWJF Senior Communications Officer

Attending the 36th annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) last week in Philadelphia provided an opportunity to reflect on the many challenges facing reporters and the news industry in the 21st century. It was also a personal trip down my professional memory lane.

At the start of my career, as a television reporter and anchor, I attended my first NABJ annual meeting in New Orleans in 1983. The organization was small back then – just a few hundred members. We all knew each other by name. Fast forward to 2011, and I was happy to connect with old friends, including founders of the organization.

The group has grown dramatically to 3,000 members, and more than 2,500 people attended the Philadelphia gathering. The profession of journalism and newsgathering has also been transformed in response to tectonic shifts in the way we gather and disseminate information. Consider: “publisher” used to define an institution that had capacity to print a book, newspaper or magazine. Now, it’s anyone with a laptop, an Internet connection and something to say.

But don’t be fooled. The explosive growth of information and ease of access to it do not mean that journalism is a dying craft. In this 21st century age of information overload – where opinion, conjecture and even fiction can masquerade as fact – the ability to find credible, engaging, reliable sources of news and information is more valuable than ever. A free press is still the cornerstone of democracy – enabling us to make informed decisions about political leaders and policies. And we also rely on media to keep us informed about issues and policies affecting every aspect of our lives, including our health and health care.

At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) booth at the NABJ Career Fair & Exhibition, we provided an array of information about Foundation programs – touching on the work of every team: Childhood Obesity, Coverage, Pioneer, Public Health, Quality/Equality, Vulnerable Populations and Human Capital. We distributed the first edition of the Human Capital Expert Resource Guide, which highlights the work and expertise of selected RWJF scholars, fellows and leaders with a focus on issues of concern to Black and Latino communities. We hope it will be a useful source of experts to interview for reporters developing stories around health and health care issues. Take a look and let us know how we can make future editions more useful for journalists and other researchers.

We also invited conventioneers to visit the RWJF Multicultural Newsroom section of rwjf.org, where they can find a variety of health-related resources for journalists whose coverage primarily serves Black and Latino audiences.

RWJF senior vice president John Lumpkin was a panelist at a Foundation-sponsored workshop “Healthy NABJ: Understanding Health Reform.” In his remarks, Dr. Lumpkin illustrated the value of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through his 24-year-old son. Without the new law, the young man probably would not be able to purchase his own insurance coverage based on a preexisting condition. However, the ACA prohibits insurers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions and allows children to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26. Dr. Lumpkin urged attendees to read an Urban Institute policy paper on the cost of “doing nothing” to reform health care.

Another convention workshop focused on another valuable resource for journalists: how to use data to enhance and enrich health related stories. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis presented a website they designed that makes data readily available to the public. It can be a huge asset in helping jump-start the work of journalists. The site, called Ozioma (a Nigerian word for “good news”), is a localhealthdata.org-based website that pulls together statistical information on a variety of health problems including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, cancer and other conditions, many of which are prevalent in the Black community. The site features various RWJF resources and includes hundreds of data sets, such as the County Health Rankings.

The convention also focused directly on health of attendees, who are themselves vulnerable to the health disparities they write about. The “Healthy NABJ” track at the meeting included Zumba exercise classes, and a Saturday morning 5K walk and run.

To join the conversations around the NABJ convention, check out #NABJ11 on twitter.

Meanwhile – I’m looking forward to the NABJ convention in 2012 – which will again take place in New Orleans, where I attended my first meeting nearly 30 years ago.


This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.